Targeting the marginalised: Detainees in the Philippines

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look next Tuesday for Line’s post on the project on children and torture.

By Tessa

Every Friday morning at the Copenhagen office, the available staff of the IRCT gathers for breakfast.

Generally, we take an hour to present our work to each other and catch up on the different departments over a cup of coffee and some Danish rugbrød. Last week, however, we were very pleased to have some guests from the member centre Philippines join us and share about their work in Manila on torture prevention and rehabilitation.

“We have faced some great challenges, and have had new opportunities emerge,” said Ernesto Anasarias, executive director of Balay Rehabilitation Centre, of the recent years of work in fighting torture and impunity in the Philippines.

While there has been a long history of torture in the Philippines, Ernesto says that the targets of torture have begun to change. Previously, torture was applied to political dissidents and protesters. Now, police use torture in interrogating suspects or as punishment for their crimes, and they consistently target the poor. Inside prisons, ill treatment of detainees is not uncommon.

Balay joined a coalition of anti-torture groups and campaigns in the Philippines to recognise the annual 26 June Day in Support of Torture Victims in 2008.

Alongside several projects that target particularly marginalised groups of torture victims – children, women, religious minorities, and the poor – Balay has been focusing on monitoring prisons and providing psycho-social rehabilitation services to those in detention.

With a population of about 94 million people – the world’s 12th most populous country – there are more than 1,000 prisons scattered about the archipelagic nation. Around 10% of which detain the political prisoners. And there is massive overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons, says Matabai Mustapha, who runs the prison monitoring project at Balay.

However, in addition to the added possibility of abuses among inmates in the prisons, Matabai says the overcrowding creates a problem in treating victims of torture in prisons – there is simply no space for privacy and confidentiality usually required for such counselling or treatment.

“We maximize what is available,” she explains. Sometimes that means trying to find a quiet corner; on other occasions, when they have established a working relationship with prison authorities, they may use management offices.

Despite the sometimes-makeshift circumstances, Balay offers a comprehensive programme of psycho-social rehabilitation services, which includes the torture victim and his or her family.

For more information on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre and their work throughout the Philippines, please visit their website.

 Tessa is communications assistant at the IRCT.


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  1. “Are children being tortured?” « World Without Torture
  2. [From the web] Targeting the marginalised: Detainees in the Philippines « Human Rights Online Philippines

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